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Syrian Cease-Fire Holds Despite Scattered Violence

Margaret Besheer and Edward Yeranian

April 13, 2012

U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan says he is "encouraged" by reports that a shaky cease-fire between government troops and rebels in Syria seems to be holding, despite scattered violence.

In a briefing on Syria to the U.N. Security Council Thursday, Annan urged the Syrian government to take further steps by removing troops and heavy weapons from major population centers.

The cease-fire is being watched closely by skeptical Western envoys and Syrian opposition groups who are weighing President Bashar al-Assad's good faith in observing the peace plan brokered by Annan.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said the international community must be united if it is going to keep Syria from descending into "chaos." At a news conference in Geneva, he said he hopes to send observers to the country soon.

"This cease-fire process is very fragile," said Ban. "It may be broken at any time if and when there is another gunshot, even a small gunshot may give both sides some protection to engage in another fighting. This is very worrisome. Therefore it is important for all the friends of all the players of the international community to influence them, to advise them sincerely to keep their promises."

Ban said the onus is on the Syrian government for the cease-fire to hold but he also urged the opposition to “sustain the cessation of violence in all its forms.”

Scattered violence reported

Activists reported a few deaths Thursday and dozens of arrests, but the nascent truce appeared to largely be holding.

Syrian state media say "armed terrorists" bombed a military bus in the city of Aleppo, killing one soldier and wounding 24 officers and cadets.

Rights activists said Syrian forces killed at least three civilians. They say the violence took place in areas including the protest hubs of Homs and Hama.

Opposition groups also said Syrian troops remain deployed in flashpoint cities and are on high alert.

Opposition leaders called for demonstrations to test the resolve of the government to abide by the cease-fire.

Syrian opposition activists say while they support his efforts, they do not believe the plan will ultimately succeed.

“We wanted to give them a little time despite the fact that so many people are dying on the ground and in the streets that it is necessary to give the international community some time to find out if diplomacy is not going to work,” said activist Ammar Abdulhamid in Washington.

Ban said the U.N. is working to send a small monitoring mission from its peacekeeping department to Syria. He said it could deploy quickly once it is approved by the Security Council.

Russian role

Security Council member Russia, which has blocked some previous action on Syria in the past months, looked ready to approve an observer force.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a Group of 8 meeting in Washington on Wednesday that it is “vitally important” the observers are present in Syria. He said he would ask the secretary-general to speed up his decision on the format and size of the force so the Security Council could approve its mandate.

Timor Goksel, a former spokesman for U.N. peacekeepers in Lebanon, said Russia is pushing the Syrian government to halt attacks on the opposition.

"I'm optimistic because clearly Syria is under pressure from Russia," he said. "No doubt about it. How far, of course I don't know, but they're under pressure and they're responding to it by agreeing to the cease-fire and everything else.”

Syria's interior ministry urged refugees and those who were displaced during months of fighting to return, claiming it would help pay for damage to their homes. The ministry also urged citizens to lay down their arms, promising an amnesty to all “except those with blood on their hands.”

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